Brewing beer at home can be done using one of three methods, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Whether kit brewing, extract brewing or all grain brewing suits you best,depends on how much you are willing to put into the process, what you are willing to spend on equipment and what kind of results you are looking for.
I have arranged these methods in order of ascending complexity, but please note that even the most complex methods are not rocket science. People have been brewing beer for thousands of years and for most of that time it was mainly brewed by ordinary people in their own homes, with very basic equipment.
The cost of the equipment also rises as the complexity rises, but you should note that you can add to your equipment as you go along. Every piece of equipment you need for a basic method will also be needed for the more complex methods.
You can also defray some of the equipment cost by making your own, using one of our helpful illustrated articles as a guide.
Kit brewing involves using canned, hopped malt extract, to which you add water and yeast. It is the simplest method of brewing, requiring no boiling or recipe formulation, but it allows the brewer little or no control over the final product. The main problem with this kind of brewing is that frugal people tend to buy cheap kits and boost the alcohol content with table sugar, resulting in very poor quality beer. A high quality beer kit, which comes in two cans and requires no added sugar, can result in an acceptable stout or ale, but I have yet to taste a kit based lager I would consider enjoyable.
You can get all of the equipment you need for about €70 and a quality ingredient kit will cost about €27, for 40 pints of beer.
Click here for a step by step guide to making beer with kits .
Extract brewing is a little more involved and takes more time, but results in considerably better tasting beer, over which the brewer has a significant level of control. The process involves using dry malt extract, hops, steeping grains and yeast. It is necessary to boil at least some wort in order to make beer using this method. Almost any style of beer can be made and the results can be of commercial quality.
In addition to the €70 starter kit from above, you need a way to boil large quantities of wort (beer before it is fermented) and a way of chilling it down again rapidly. An electric boiler costs about €100, while an immersion wort chiller costs about €70. If you want to save some money and build some of your own equipment, you might find Building an Immersion Wort Chiller and Pimp my kettle useful.
Extract Brewing: An Illustrated Guide has everything you need to know about making your own beer using these methods.
All grain brewing
All grain brewing is the process of making beer from malted barley, hops and yeast. It is essentially the same process that commercial brewers use, but on a very small scale. It takes significantly longer than either of the previous two methods and requires more skill, but any style of beer can be made and the brewer has complete control of the final product.
In addition to the equipment needed for the two previous methods, you will require a mash tun, which you can make yourself , or buy for about €70. Starting from scratch, you can get all of the equipment you need for about €320 but most people start with extract brewing and then add a mash tun at a later date.
The ingredients for a 40 pint batch of beer will cost €10 - €15 making it by far the cheapest method, once you have the equipment.
You can make your own mash tun from a picnic cooler and some copper piping. See Building a Coolerbox Mashtun with a Copper Manifold for details.
All grain brewing. Easier than you might think has step by step instructions on how to use a coolbox mash tun to make beer.
Alternatively, you could use an insulated plastic bucket, muslin and bungee cord as used in Low-tech All Grain Brewing.
Where to buy equipment and ingredients
A list of suppliers in Ireland and abroad can be found here: Online Brewing Supplies.
Where to ask questions
We have quite an active user community which you can join. It is free to use and is run by amateur enthusiasts, many of whom have a wealth of brewing know-how. We are happy to answer any questions you have about any aspect of beer and brewing. You have to register to join in the discussion, but you can read other peoples posts without signing up. Feel free to pop along and say hello, even if you don’t have questions. We love talking about brewing and like to hear what people have on the go.
Discuss this item in the forum.